According to the AFL-CIO.org, surveys show union members overwhelming supported Kerry at just under 70 percent. That isn't terribly interesting. What is interesting is that union gun owners supported Kerry by 12 points. Non-union gun owners supported Bush by 40 points.
This is suggestive for the future of the Democratic Party. Before we wax nostalgic for Clinton and the DLC, and before we shift our views on guns, gays, and God, two facts ought to be mentioned. First, Clinton received 43 percent in 1992 when most polls showed that Perot took voters away from Bush. Clinton received 49 percent in 1996 in a great economy and with the president at high approval ratings. Had Ross Perot or McCain or some type of 3rd party run this year and taken votes away from W. Bush, would Kerry have won?
Second, Clinton's support for unions was 'mixed'. NAFTA certainly comes to mind. He received union support and deservably so--he had a pro-labor NLRB for example that made it easier for many of the new sector unions (doctors, grad students, other service workers) to form. But the 90s was an era of union decline, having slowed from precipitous decline in the 80s, but a decline nonetheless. Remember too in 2000, union leaders fought over Gore v. Nader with some high profile union leaders endorsing Nader.
Connecting these 2 points, it suggests to me--1) that it is not clear to me that the DLC record is any better than the left-wing Democrat record. The last impassioned left wing Democratic candidate was probably Mondale. (Despite what Bush called him, Kerry was hardly a lefty in the traditional sense of the Democratic party). No, Mondale didnt do well at all. But all I'm arguing is that the DLC record should not be seen through rose-colored glasses. It hasnt faired much better and I would argue that Kerry's lack of thrilling economic message is part of the DLC lineage. 2) As the mobilization of the Christian Right showed, having organizations gets people out to vote. The Christian Right were mobilized in their churches. Democrats have unions and unions have consistently gotten not just the gun-toters out to vote in bigger numbers than we'd expect, but white men too, an increasingly small crowd in the Democratic Party.
So, what this suggests to me at least is that the Democrats ought to spend more time allowing unions to thrive--meaning, fighting hard and spending real energy in getting good appointments to the NLRB and fighting to make it easier to organize. Currently, union campaigns are filled with illegal firings, illegal threats, illegal bribes, and so on, overwhelmingly committed by employers. (not convinced? Read mainstream statistical articles by the likes of Bruce Western in the American Sociological Review that provide all this data on explanations of union decline). We aren't going back to 1935 (the height of the labor movement for those non-history buffs out there when more than a third of private sector Americans were unionized), but an increase of even 10 percent would make a marked difference in the current electoral landscape.